Design & Development
October 26, 2020

Frances Bula Reviews “Land of Destiny”

Just out from the Literary Review of Canada:

PT: Frances Bula has indispensably covered urban issues and city politics in Vancouver long enough to remember things other writers didn’t even live though much less forgot (as the review of Jesse Donaldson’s book, Land of Destiny: A History of Vancouver Real Estate, demonstrates).  So with her nuanced and in-depth perspective, she’s now able to piss off every side of the debate on housing affordability, development and who’s responsible.

Here are some excerpts – but go read the complete story here.

Donaldson limits his narrative to one overarching theme: that a select group of speculators have controlled this city forever. In Land of Destiny, only the names change through the decades — the general storyline stays the same. There is always a powerful group of marketers and speculators, and there is always a willing band of politicians to give them whatever is needed in order to reap the windfall.

Donaldson suggests that Vancouver’s dynamic real estate experience is unique. But that interpretation, a familiar one in an often unhappy city, where suspicion-filled and resentful narratives about development are an established noir tradition, leaves out so much. For one, Vancouver is not unique when it comes to land rushes. That’s pretty much the story of the western United States and Canada, as people scrambled to acquire property, in what were seen as newly opened and empty territories, and then market it to newcomers. Capitalism at its rawest.

Second, Donaldson doesn’t explain why the speculators were so successful here compared with other places. Many have failed at this capitalist game of creating demand where there was none before, losing fortunes as buyers failed to appear at their gimcrack Shangri‑Las. What was it about local dynamics that nurtured enough pressure on real estate that it became a reliable speculative vehicle right from the start?  (Details follow.)

 

Here’s the part of the review that I think is most salient:

A history of Vancouver real estate should give some kind of attention, at some point, to all buyers and owners, not just foreign investors. But too many of those buyers and owners are absent from Land of Destiny. Their absence becomes steadily more glaring as the chapters unfurl because local transactions are, in the end, the mechanism that makes speculation work.

She adds a quote from Los Angeles writer Mike Davis’s City of Quartz that is particularly relevant to Vancouver culture (and to the local Green Party in particular):

Davis details the way that homeowner groups of thirty years ago, using the language and often the support of the environmental movement, blocked development of lower-cost housing throughout Los Angeles: “Environmentalism is a congenial discourse to the extent that it is congruent with a vision of eternally rising property values in secure bastions of white privilege.”

And then, ka-pow:

Land of Density makes it sound like a mystery why all those politicians with real estate cronies get elected. But it’s not a mystery. A significant group of voters, the ones who have benefited from the way the current system works, keep electing them. They were mostly pleased with themselves and their foresight while Vancouver property values kept climbing. It’s only when things got a little out of hand this past decade — when suddenly neither children of the land rich nor double-income households could afford even the first rung of the homeownership ladder — that we saw some backlash from the existing owners.

It would have been nice to see that analysis and history in this book. The opportunity was there. There’s no shortage of archival news accounts of locals pushing back to keep the outsiders away, including the now-legendary comment by a west-side resident in one public hearing that a potential transportation corridor shouldn’t be allowed in her area because it is filled with the “crème de la crème.”*

Or this:

Donaldson employs language and framing that pins everything on the cabal of “others.” Real estate is controlled by “oligarchs.” Developers and politicians,

Read more »

There’s been some discussion that the City of Vancouver’s three public golf courses, which are classified as park land, should be morphed into housing sites. The argument has been that as the population of the City of Vancouver expands, why not use golf course sites for housing?

The City cannot easily turn land zoned for park use into housing sites and there’s the suggestion that doing so may be short sighted, as the city densifies and requires park land for a growing populus into the next century. The City does have an  established policy of providing 2.5 acres of park land for every 1,000 residents, and used DCLs on new development to garner funds for park purchase.

The original intent of DCLs, (Development Cost Levies) was to pay for social housing, infrastructure, parks and childcare facilities. As development occurred in the city, each development would pay a portion of the associated costs. Councils have also waived these DCL payments in some cases to achieve other goals such as new affordable or rental housing, meaning that the funds for other infrastructure required have been deferred.

Take a look at what the  City of Sydney Australia is doing in this article written by Megan Gorrey in the Sydney Morning Herald. Mayor Clover Moore and Sydney Council is considering two plans to pare down an 18 hole civic golf course to 9 holes and create 20 hectares of new parkland.

 

It’s no surprise that Golf New South Wales called the proposal “shameful”. But the Lord mayor argues that the land is for public use. While the golf course is in a park trust run by New South Wales state, Mayor Moore observes that the area surrounding the golf course is “becoming the densest residential area in Australia” with an expected population increase of 70,000 residents and 22,000 workers by 2031.

There are twelve golf courses, six accessible to the public within 12 kilometres of this golf course. The City Council plans to spend $50,000 on a community consultation plan for the area and for the park if the proposal is adopted, providing new park land with close proximity to the downtown.

Read more »

David Zinn lives in Ann Arbor Michigan, a town of 121,000 people west of Detroit. He is a graphic artist and he has a special talent~he imaginatively places chalk drawings around the sidewalks and public areas of his city. His imaginative revisioning of the cracks and crevices of the public realm has taken him to many cities around the world, where his art is on the street. That art is there for  a little while, under normal environmental factors.

Mr. Zinn sees  the inevitable rain and weathering of his artistic work as part of his creative process. He’s developed a set of characters that  appear  in different landscapes ,and he takes advantage of found objects and fixtures along sidewalks. His cast of characters include “Sluggo” a green monster as well as a  flying pig who is named Philomena.

There’s a series of books and even a calendar  based upon Mr. Zinn’s drawings. This year Mr. Zinn did a TEDx talk that describes his philosophy and process in creating these images. 

 

You can take a look at this short YouTube video below that describes Mr. Zinn’s work and philosophy, as well as why he believes art is good for everyone during the Covid pandemic.

Images:DavidZinn

Read more »

Arizona State University’s (ASU) School of Sustainability and Island Press are partnering on a fall speaker series featuring Island Press authors and Urban Resilience Project contributors. All events are free, hosted by ASU, and promise to inspire.

Join Shane Phillips, author of The Affordable City, for a discussion moderated by ASU urban planner and sustainability scientist Deirdre Pfeiffer.

From Los Angeles to Boston and Chicago to Miami, US cities are struggling to address the twin crises of high housing costs and household instability. Debates over the appropriate course of action have been defined by two poles: building more housing or enacting stronger tenant protections. These options are often treated as mutually exclusive, with support for one implying opposition to the other.

There is no single solution to the housing crisis—it will require a comprehensive approach backed by strong, diverse coalitions. Hear how professionals and advocates are working to improve affordability and increase community resilience through local action.

To register for this webinar please click here.

Date: Thursday October 29, 2020

Time: 1:00 to 2:00 Pacific Time

 

Read more »

For years the MTA subway map of New York has been a city icon – and much debated in the graphic world as it tried to achieve an almost-impossible set of needs: accuracy, elegancy, clarity, trying to combine a huge amount of information on what happens below ground with some utility as an above-ground navigation tool.

This new online one, suitable for the way we actually get information, seems to do the job.  So, transit nerds, set aside some time to explore.

From Curbed:

Today, the MTA is unveiling its new digital map, the first one that uses the agency’s own data streams to update in real time. It supersedes the blizzard of paper service-change announcements that are taped all over your subway station’s entrance. It’s so thoroughly up-to-the-moment that you can watch individual trains move around the system on your phone.

Pinch your fingers on the screen, and you can zoom out to see your whole line or borough, as the lines resolve into single strands. Drag your fingers apart, and you’ll zoom in to see multiple routes in each tunnel springing out, widening into parallel bands — making visible individual service changes, closures and openings, and reroutings. Click on a station, and you can find out whether the elevators and escalators are working.

Read more »

He came at a time when TransLink was maligned and demoralized, thanks to Christy Clark’s pointless and destructive referendum.  He led the organization to its greatest success, to become the best transit agency in North America.  And to improvements which continue to roll out. (If not for the pandemic, we’d still be seeing significant increases in ridership.)

I suspect he received calls from headhunters every week.  And with opportunities that became irresistible.  I will not be surprised if he becomes the next Secretary of Transportation in a Biden administration.

Here’s the interview PriceTalks did with Kevin Desmond last year – still revealing for the backstory of a public servant who will be much missed but with whom we received much benefit.

The Sky’s the Limit for Kevin Desmond, CEO of North America’s Transit Ridership Leader

Happy hiking, Kevin.

Read more »

 

 

Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are the automotive darling of this century, growing in popularity as safe and secure for occupants, but are killing machines for other vulnerable road users. The SUV rides high above the road to give drivers good visibility.  I have been writing about how SUVs and trucks which make up 60 percent of all vehicle purchases have been responsible for a 46 percent increase in pedestrian deaths.

Statistics show that SUVs with the high front end grille are twice as likely to kill pedestrians because of the high engine profile, but this information has not been well publicized. In the United States a federal initiative to include pedestrian crash survival into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers. Writer and city planner Angie Schmitt has just written the excellent book  “Right of Way” which details how road deaths in the United States have increased with rising sales of the SUV.

SUVs are also ‘Climate killers’. There has been little progress on reducing  road transport carbon emissions in Europe, comprising 27% of all emissions. While the automobile industry blames regulators for turning away from diesel (lower in carbon but more toxic)  regulators blame the lack of progress on SUVs “driven by carmakers’ aggressive marketing”.

Yet none of these factors have deterred the auto industry in marketing bigger, larger, more den-like SUVs with all kinds of driver assisted systems and even a 38 inch OLED screen.

The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins details his day driving the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. It is the size of a small boat, nearly 18 feet or 5.5 meters long and nearly 6. 5 feet or nearly two meters high. It is bigger and longer than the model from the previous year and as Mr. Hawkins duly notes, is called by Cadillac ““the largest and longest Escalade ever.

But there’s more.

“Sitting in the driver’s seat, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the outside world — mostly because you can’t see a lot of it. The grille was like a sheer cliffside, obstructing my view several feet out in front of the wheels. An entire kindergarten class could be lined up in front of this vehicle and I wouldn’t see them.”

He used social media to send out images of his three year old son in front of the grill of this SUV to show how impossible it was to see a child in front of this vehicle. Mr. Hawkins also referenced this sobering study produced by WTHR News in Indianapolis last year  which shows how huge the “blind spot” in front of SUVs are. And the Escalade had the longest blind spot. In the horrifying video attached to this article news reporters had a group of crosslegged school children sit down in front of the SUV in a line, and kept adding school children until the driver could see them.

The Escalade had the largest front blind spot of 10 feet, two inches, with the driver sitting in a natural, relaxed position. It took 13 children seated in a line in front of the Escalade before the driver could see the tops of their heads.”

Read more »

The Cities Health and Active Transportation Research Team  (INTERACT) led by the very capable Dr. Meghan Winters is known for studying the important intersection between active transportation and population health in cities.

The team is looking at an important question~Can urban design changes in our neighbourhoods make us healthier and happier?

In a study led by INTERACT,  researchers at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, in collaboration with the City of Vancouver and scientists across Canada are examining that question.

In 2018 the team  launched a five-year study to uncover how the development of Vancouver’s Arbutus Greenway is impacting physical activity, social participation, and well-being of nearby residents, and whether these impacts are felt equally across different socioeconomic groups.

You are invited to participate, on two on-line data surveys and join a national community of scientists, urban planners, public health experts, and engaged citizens with a common interest in designing healthier cities for all.

Please click this link for more information.

Read more »

Scot writes:

A friend gifted me a beautiful replica 1928 map of ‘Greater’ Vancouver (just before the amalgamation of Vancouver, South Vancouver and Point Grey in 1929).

 

Upon further examination there are some neighbourhoods listed that I’ve never heard of, or perhaps have been renamed.

Rosedale – Renfrew & Grandview Highway:

Riverview – Victoria Drive & 59th:

Magee – West Blvd & 52nd:

In addition they are showing a neighbourhood called Strathcona located just south of King Edward west of Granville street

Any insight, PT historians?

Read more »

For the first time, Urban Design Theory and Practice course will be delivered fully online. Developed and led by renowned Canadian urban designer Michael von Hausen, this course explores the fundamentals of the field over four weeks, covering:

  • Urban design history and trends
  • Rural and suburban design
  • Place-keeping and place-making

Urban Design Theory and Practice
Oct 26–Nov 16 | 4 weeks online
Instructor and facilitator: Michael von Hausen

Register Read more »